Fighting for Transportation Freedom in Chicago
Jacob Huebert of the Liberty Justice Center writes of attempts to let people go into business driving people around in Chicago in the face of laws that allow their existing competitors to lock them out.
He starts by reminding us what's been happening with the Uber car hire service:
Uber, the San Francisco-based company whose popular smartphone application allows users in Chicago and more than a dozen other U.S. cities to summon a black sedan with the push of a button…came to Chicago in 2011 and quickly became popular with tens of thousands of users and more than 1,000 affiliated drivers. It faced little legal resistance until October 2012, when several taxi and vehicle-service companies filed a federal lawsuit containing dubious allegations that Uber's business model violated city regulations as well as state and federal law….
This onslaught against Uber is not motivated by concern for consumers, who tend to love Uber and have few complaints. And it's not motivated by concern for drivers, who have in fact embraced the opportunity Uber provides them to earn extra money from new customers who previously would not have used a black car service. Rather, the attack is coming from the owners of big taxi companies who want government to protect them from competition.
As Huebert notes, Uber is in a pretty good position to fight back legally, being a company with many fans and some money behind it. But:
what about the typical entrepreneur, who must devote all of his or her resources to ordinary business expenses and can't afford lawsuits or lobbyists? That's where the Liberty Justice Center comes in.
One of our clients, Julie Crowe, wanted to start a vehicle-for-hire service that would offer a safer, female-friendly alternative to the "party buses" that take Illinois State University students back and forth to downtown bars in Bloomington, Illinois. Unfortunately, in Bloomington as in Chicago, the laws are designed to protect the bottom lines of established businesses, not the rights of entrepreneurs. A city ordinance requires Crowe to have a "certificate of convenience" from the city to operate, and it entitles the owners of existing taxi and vehicle-for-hire services to weigh in on whether she should get it. The city can then approve or deny the certificate based on whether the city manager finds it "desirable." Predictably, Crowe's would-be competitors objected to her application. The city then rejected it, claiming there was no "need" for her business….
The Liberty Justice Center has filed a lawsuit, now pending in Illinois state court, challenging the ordinance on Crowe's behalf. We're representing Crowe both to defend her rights and to help reestablish a legal climate in which entrepreneurs can unleash their creativity, earn a living, and create jobs as they discover new ways to serve the public.
Reason on Uber's various local legal troubles as they try to provide a needed and wanted service.